Winds of Change


By Sam Garfield

Oct. 11, 1957

(Chicago) –A nice walk on a crisp afternoon in autumn is a good way to clear your mind. On a recent stroll in my neighborhood I stopped by a schoolyard to watch a group of boys playing a game of Five Hundred. You may remember the game from your youth –someone hits a ball to a group of fielders. If you catch the ball on the fly, you get one hundred points…one bounce, seventy-five, two bounces, fifty, and a ground ball is worth twenty-five. Make an error, and you deduct the appropriate points. When you reach five hundred, you get to bat. I light a cigarette and watch for a while.

“The Dodgers, they’re leaving Brooklyn,” one of the older kids, in a Cub hat, says as he snares a line drive right in front of one of his pals, a fat kid, short, no more than ten years old. “That’s three-twenty-five for me.”

“Forget it. The hundred’s mine, it was coming right at me.”

“You never called it,” the Cub hat says, and he throws the ball to the batter.

“Whataya talking about, the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn? Says who?”

“Says everybody,” another player adds. Where you been? It’s on the radio, TV.”

“Leaving Brooklyn, for what?” The fat kid’s having trouble with the whole idea, but he somehow jumps in front of the Cub hat to grab a one-hopper. “That makes me four hundred. Why would the Dodgers leave Brooklyn? I don’t get it?”

I don’t get it either. These schoolboys in Chicago are ball fans. They’re young romantics when it comes to baseball. They know all about the Dodgers, how they’re the class of the National League. They know all about Jackie Robinson winning six pennants in ten years. They know how much people in Brooklyn love their Dodgers. And now they’re learning about the winds of change that’s in the air.

Sure, the Dodgers’ leaving Brooklyn is part of a bigger story, bigger than baseball. It’s about how America is changing. New homes popping up in the middle of nowhere, far away from the big cities. And new highways leading to these new homes. And new cars to get us there. The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn? Well, that’s progress these days, my friend.

But for Dodgers fans in Brooklyn, it’s betrayal. And for the baseball romantics everywhere, it’s a story of loss. Not just the loss of a baseball team, but a story much bigger.

“The Dodgers is who we are,” a Brooklynite friend of mine told me when he called with the news. “It’s our identity. It’s how we define ourselves. Sure, the Giants are moving too, but that don’t matter. They’re from The City.”

“The City” is Brooklyn nomenclature for Manhattan, the place across the river. The Giants are having financial woes because of dipping attendance; that’s why they’re headed to San Francisco. But the Dodgers have enjoyed steady attendance over the last ten years, averaging more than 1,000,000 per season in tiny Ebbets Field.

So, why then are the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn…for what?

Well, every story has its villain, and this story has three.  First, there’s Walter O’Malley, Dodgers owner and baseball pragmatist. He sees the Milwaukee Braves with a new publically-finance stadium that seats 53,000. And more importantly, parking for 10,000 cars. And an attendance of well over 2,000,000 this year. O’Malley wants the same for his Dodgers, but he says he can’t do it in Brooklyn.

Why not, Mr. O’Malley?

Enter villain #2, Robert Moses, New York’s Park Commissioner and Public Works czar. For two years, he and O’Malley have been wrestling over where to build a new ballpark and how to pay for it. A perfect case of private business and government in a tug of war, neither side willing to compromise for the public good. While O’Malley and Moses are sparring, villain #3 appears –the City of Los Angeles, with plenty of land to build, plenty of highways, plenty of cars, plenty of people, and plenty of money.

The baseball romantic had no chance in this three-card Monte.

So, next year Pee Wee, Duke, and Campy will be playing ball in sunny California. But in Chicago, a schoolboy in love with the romance of baseball still wants to know: The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn…for what?

Copyright © 2012. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.


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